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JPEG vs RAW: What’s the Difference?

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What does JPEG stand for? What does RAW mean? Learn the pros and cons of these image formats and find out how shooting RAW can lift your photography game.

Words and Photography by Urth HQ

Here we cover the differences between RAW and JPEG so you can make an informed decision on which to shoot with.

What is a JPEG?

A JPEG is a standard and widely used image format for containing compressed images. This ‘compression’ is the hallmark of a JPEG. The image format was designed to be digitally compressed, making the file size significantly smaller, in order to prioritise accessibility and circulation. This is why JPEG files are most commonly created and used on mobile phones, computers and across the Internet.

WHAT DOES JPEG STAND FOR?

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group — the name of the group that created the JPEG Standard. 

Technical acronyms such as this define the language of the digital world. So much photographic terminology we only understand on a superficial level. Perhaps we knew that a JPEG is a file type for images but we’ve never needed or sought to know anything more. For a comprehensive JPEG overview (like, seriously comprehensive!) visit jpeg.org.

Extra credit if you can guess what PDF, PNG and TIFF all stand for.

PROS & CONS OF SHOOTING JPEG

When you photograph in JPEG format you are compressing the photograph’s overall size. Although this is great for SD card or hard-drive storage, you have to be aware that the image quality is also compromised when shooting JPEGs.

Although the image quality compromise is ideal when uploading to the web, shooting JPEG can be an issue when trying to reproduce the image in print or even greater scales like artwork or advertising.

What is RAW?

So, what does RAW mean? Interestingly, RAW isn’t an acronym. A RAW file is referred to as RAW because by dictionary definition the file is “not analysed, evaluated, or processed for use”. In other words, a RAW file refers to the image data exactly as recorded on your camera’s sensor. In even simpler terms, they’re raw, uncooked files.

PROS & CONS OF SHOOTING RAW

With raw, uncompressed image data, you’re going to have really large files which can add time to your processing routine. Large RAW files anywhere between 20 and 40MB can take up plenty of space on your hard-drives and generally take longer to import and export back and forth.

While these cons are few, the pros are many. Shooting RAW provides the shooter with a safety net. If you under or overexpose an image,  this can typically be rescued in the editing process because RAW files contain so much more image information than their JPEG counterparts.

jpeg-vs-raw examplesRAW photos offer more editing opportunities.

Shooting RAW also gives you the largest, best possible file to work with while allowing you to scale images down if and when needed.

If you’re looking to print images as artworks or if you’re photographing for clients, it’s best practice to shoot RAW to ensure you have the best possible chance of meeting printing or advertising quality and client needs.

JPEG vs RAW Examples

Here are some examples of the same photograph taken in both JPEG and RAW formats. While they appear much the same in exposure, the difference remains relatively invisible until the processing or editing stage.

The difference between JPEG vs RAW is clearly noticeable when editing. In this comparison, see how well the shadows of the RAW image retain information as opposed to the JPEG when edited?

jpeg-vs-raw examplesOriginal unedited photo.
jpeg-vs-raw examplesJPEG photo with shadows pulled back.
jpeg-vs-raw examplesRAW photo with shadows pulled back.

And in this comparison, notice how the blown-out highlights of the JPEG remain clipped even after editing while the RAW image has been rescued from over-exposure?

jpeg-vs-raw examplesOriginal unedited photo.
jpeg-vs-raw examplesJPEG photo with highlights pulled back.
jpeg-vs-raw examplesRAW photo with highlights pulled back.

How to Shoot RAW

Setting your camera to shoot RAW images is easy. First, you will need to access your Image Quality settings on your LCD screen display, and the location of these settings will, of course, depend on the brand of your camera i.e. Nikon, Canon, Sony.

If you’re having difficulty, take a quick squiz at your camera manual. If you can’t find your hard copy camera manual, you can most likely access it online by punching in your camera model and make.

jpeg-vs-raw examplesImage quality setting on camera.

On Canon, for instance, the Image Quality settings are often categorised into S, M and L, otherwise meaning Small, Medium and Large. Click onto L and locate the RAW option. It’s best to leave your camera in RAW mode at all times. Sure, you may have larger files, but as long as you’ve got a hard-drive to store them all, you’re putting yourself in the safest position to take great photographs because of RAW’s superior editing capabilities.

You can also set your camera to take RAW+JPEG simultaneously i.e. one RAW version and one JPEG version of the same image, but this may slow your camera’s overall performance as it will be processing additional data.

Summary

Hopefully, this article has provided some clarity on the pros and cons of each image format in the JPEG vs RAW debate. If you’re currently shooting JPEGs, we recommend resetting your cameras now that you know the fundamentals of why and how to shoot RAW. Shooting RAW may seem intimidating but once you experience the benefits of wider dynamic range and the ability to rescue under or overexposure… you’ll never shoot in any other image format.

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2021-07-19T06:38:42+00:00Categories: Photography|Tags: , , |